Good news for those of us who want to equip students with knowledge that prepares them for life: According to Ms Magazine, legislation introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) will eliminate federal funding for abstinence-only programs if enacted.
As Lee explained, "The issues of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections among our young people have reached a critical level. The best and most responsible way to protect them is through comprehensive sex education." The bill provides $50 million annually for “comprehensive, evidence-based programs that include information not only on abstinence, but also on contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections.” I even love the program’s acronym, PREP (for Personal Responsibility Education Program), because that’s what good sex ed does -- it preps people for life.
I can understand the view of abstinence-only advocates that teens are not really ready -- emotionally and/or physically -- to have sex. I don’t necessarily agree with it, although whenever I want to amuse myself, I think back to my early to mid-teen years. I was a rabid “wait-until-marriage” type of girl. (Then I decided that I didn’t want to get married and I had to reevaluate my stance on the issue, as I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be celibate forever, but that’s another story.) I knew that I wasn’t ready and that it would be a disaster for me to have sex with someone who later broke up with me. (Not that marriages don’t end, but that’s also another story.)
However, at some point in life, the vast majority of people become sexually active. Abstinence-only sex education does not prepare people for the long term by telling them not to have sex until they are married and everything will be just fine. What? It’s like teaching kids geometry, but withholding the Pythagorean theorem because they don’t need to know it until later, so why bother at all. It is foolish, counterproductive, and a huge waste of money.
On top of that, we know that abstinence-only education is a grand scale failure when it comes to dissuading teens from having sex. As Catherine Morgan reported in December 2007, teen pregnancy was on the rise that year despite the increased federal funding for abstinence-only education. On the flip side, California reduced it’s teen pregnancy rate dramatically, and a June 2010 report by the Guttmacher Foundation reminds readers that it was the only state to never accept federal money for abstinence-only programming. Hmmm...
Now that we are flipping back to the “knowledge is power” side of the education coin, many people are excited. At Smile Politely, a group of teens wrote:
Congress should create policy that addresses real-life situations, not politics. And that's what PREP does. PREP is based on what teens really need, which is education and information. If teens don't have information, then they can't protect themselves. That's just common sense, and that's why the PREP program and effective sex education is critical to the future of this country.
Many teens are already taking action when it comes to protecting themselves. According to the New York Times teens are reporting that they use condoms more often than adults. (Of course, if 80% of young men report using a condom the last time he had sex but only 69% of young women do, there’s something fishy.) Hopefully, the new comprehensive sex education funding will change this for the better, helping sexually active teens make the choice to use condoms 100% of the time and helping those who choose to wait until later in life to have to make safe, healthy decisions when they become sexually active.
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